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The Sports Daily > Frozen Notes
Special teams haven’t been very special for the Blues

It’s time to talk special teams. The St. Louis Blues are leading the Central as of the posting of this article with a 6-2-1 record and 13 points. That impressive and surprising record has been due to a multitude of factors, but one of those factors hasn’t been the team’s special teams play.

The old suggestion is that a team’s power play percentage and penalty kill percentage should add up to a total of 100 or higher. The Blues currently have a 73.7% on the PK and a 14.3% on the power play. That’s a total of just 88, falling well below of the overall goal of 100+.

As far as ranks, the Blues rank 24th in the NHL on the power play and 27th on the penalty kill.

The team’s record suggests that the struggles on special teams haven’t been too big of a deal. They’re still winning. However, as the game against the Vegas Golden Knights proved, the issues on the PP and PK will prove costly as more time passes.

Against the Golden Knights, the Blues went 0-for-4 on the power play. Making matters worse, the Golden Knights went 2-for-3 on the power play. The officiating proved costly too, but the lopsided specials teams play made all of the difference in a one-goal game.

How can the Blues improve in these critical areas?

Injuries have been an excuse, but it’s time to get over that. Injuries will be an issue for every team at some point during the year. Good teams find a way to adapt. It’ll always be tough to succeed if key players or out, but the overall strategy and approach appears to be the overarching issue.

The Blues need to pressure more on the PK. They’ve actually found some success when they’re moving as a unit and applying immediate pressure, but they don’t commit to this approach as much as they should. For that strategy to work, everyone has to be on the same page and moving together. When that doesn’t happen, things break down and the other team can exploit an open lane.

There’s also the cute passes when a hard clearance would work better. It’s crazy how often the Blues will get to a puck first and attempt to chip it along the boards in their own zone or pass it to a nearby teammate instead of going with the “just get it out” mentality.

With the man advantage, the Blues seem to be lacking some chemistry. Practices may solve that as the Blues try to find the right combination of players to roll out on the first and second units. As far as anecdotal evidence, the Blues are a bit too deliberate on the power play. If the fans can read your strategy well before it develops, odds are good the other team can too.

On the power play, the Blues will set up with slow, deliberate passing. The one-timers that do fly in are usually in traffic and from tough angles. Things need to be sped up some so the Blues can actually develop a play before the opponent figures it out. If you watch other teams around the league and how they move with and without the puck on the power play, you’ll see the difference.

Overall, the Blues need to work more as a unit and with more speed and urgency. So far, they’ve been able to get by with both units playing below their abilities, but the wins and the points are destined to slow unless they can make some major changes.

One thought on “Special teams haven’t been very special for the Blues

  1. I think the urgency point can’t be undersold here. The Blues show essentially none of it on the power play, and only limited flashes of it on the PK.

    Part of this may be that there isn’t a real focus, particularly for the PP. Tarasenko is certainly individually dangerous, but they’ve been setting him up high in the zone on the half-wall, or all the way out on the point. No matter how ridiculous his wrist shot is, he’s unlikely to score with it from there on a regular basis, both due to distance and the number of bodies between him and the goal, which necessitates him bringing the puck closer to the middle before taking a shot, which in turn allows the opposing team plenty of time to come out and defend him with a single man.

    Compare to a couple of other obvious team situations with the man advantage in Tampa and Washington (since I’ve watched games of those teams recently, and there are obvious dangerous sniper correlations). They keep Kucherov/Stamkos and Ovechkin relatively low in the zone, so they’re dangerous as soon as they receive the puck. This, by itself, starts to cause breakdowns in PK coverage, because in that one instant that they receive the puck, it can be in the back of the net in a blink. Naturally, that opens up the coverage and lanes in regards to everyone else on the ice, allowing them to inhabit more dangerous scoring areas as well. Tampa has played this to the tune of a 28.9% PP rate thus far, and Washington to a 25% rate – good for fifth and seventh in the league at the moment.

    Beyond that, the urgency factor comes into play. The team does seem to have a plan with regards to the power play, and yet it lacks any real observable will to impose that plan on the opponent. Without trying to re-make points that you’ve already made, it seems like the Blues don’t really have a man advantage on the power play terribly often, due to lack of movement of both players and the puck. The opposition, down a man, has generally been showing a great deal more urgency in odd-man situations than the Blues have, and it’s showing very readily on both ends of the special teams battle.

    On the penalty kill, the only thing I really have to add is this: I don’t feel that the Blues are really getting carved up by the opposition here, so much as they’re shooting themselves in the foot with the lack of urgency, particularly in regards to clearing the puck out of the zone. For whatever reason, they seem to be treating the clearing of the puck almost like a 5-on-5 situation, trying to get more of the work done skating, rather than just ripping the puck out of the zone. Certainly, that approach doesn’t always work, but compared to the likely outcomes of chipping it into traffic along the boards, it’s the better choice substantially more often than the team is actually employing it.

    Liked by 1 person

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